MINNEAPOLIS — It was a game Mike Zimmer would have loved.
Minnesota's 17-15 loss to Dallas on Thursday night was gritty, low-scoring and a defensive struggle at times.
But with the Vikings head coach forced to miss the game after undergoing emergency eye surgery for a detached retina Wednesday night, Zimmer's Vikings couldn't pull out a win against a team he coached with for 13 seasons.
"We love that man," said Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. "He puts his heart and soul into this team, and we give it right back to him.
"I think this team handled it very well; we put everything we had on the line," he added. "But at the end of the day, we have to find a way to get it done and we just didn't."
Zimmer's surgery was the was the third procedure the third-year head coach has had since discovering a problem with his right eye after the Vikings played the Bears in Chicago on Oct. 31.
Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer served as Minnesota's interim head coach against Dallas.
"I told the team how proud I was of them that they fought to the bitter end," Priefer said. "I know Coach Zim' would have been very, very proud of them.
"I know that with as tough as he is, he'll be back before long," he added.
Priefer is in his sixth season with the Vikings and 15th overall season in the NFL. Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman announced Thursday morning that Priefer would be Minnesota's head coach against the Cowboys.
"You've kind of hopefully been preparing your whole career," said Priefer, who credited the whole coaching staff for filling in for Zimmer. "I appreciate what Rick and Coach Zimmer did in giving me this opportunity."
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards called the defensive plays in Zimmer's absence.
"Guys did a great job picking up the slack for Coach Zim'," said Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. "I think George did a great job calling a great game."
Longest-tenured Viking Chad Greenway said the Vikings had faith in assistants and each other.
"We weren't going to let the situation with Coach Zim' affect how we were going to play," Greenway said. "We have a staff that's prepared. George has called many games in this league. We had confidence in that. We have seasoned veteran coaches across the board, and Prief' in particular, understands the situation as good as anybody. I thought he did a great job."
Zimmer delivered an emotional speech to the Vikings on Thursday morning, but Minnesota couldn't convert a game-tying, 2-point conversion with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't enough, however, as Minnesota dropped to 6-6.
"He's got his DNA all over this team and the identity of this team didn't change," said Vikings center Nick Easton, who made his first NFL start in place of injured Joe Berger. "He came in and gave us a good word … I wish we could have won it for him."